100% Electric Vehicles Chevy Volt. Credit: GM

Published on February 19th, 2013 | by Zachary Shahan

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EVs Selling Well At This Stage Of Their Evolution

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February 19th, 2013 by Zachary Shahan
 
Nissan Leaf via Nissan

Nissan Leaf via Nissan

One of the most common myths repeated and repeated and repeated in mainstream media (and even in cleantech and EV media) is that plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) aren’t selling well. Quite to the contrary, for this stage of the technology’s evolution, they’re selling very well.

The first question that probably comes to mind for you here is: “If most other reporters and bloggers are saying that they aren’t selling well, why do they think so?”

I think there’s one main reason why these other people are more negative about this matter — expectations. (And, really, that’s the root of all of our disappointments, isn’t it?) In the case of PEVs, there have been some very ambitious expectations. Because the expectations were so high, and actual sales have been quite a bit lower, everyone is saying that PEVs aren’t selling well. However, they are selling quite well considering that they are a completely new type of car.

Plug-In Electric Vehicles Versus Conventional Hybrids

Chevy Volt via Chevrolet

Chevy Volt via Chevrolet

U.S. Toyota Prius sales totaled 15,556 cars in the model’s first full year, while Honda Insight sales we considerably lower at 3,788.

U.S. Chevy Volt sales totaled 7,671 cars in the model’s first full year, while Nissan Leaf sales totaled 9,674.

So, 19,344 units of the the first two hybrids were sold in the U.S. market in their first full year, compared to 17,345 units of the Leaf and Volt.

In year two, 15,600 Toyota Prii were sold and 4,700 Honda Insights were sold, versus 23,500 Chevy Volts and 9,800 Nissan Leafs. So, in year two, PEVs are beating hybrids by about 13,000 units. Additionally, plug-in electric vehicle competition has increased much faster, with most major automobile companies now having one or more PEVs on the market.

In other words, early plug-in electric vehicles have seen sales similar to early hybrid sales, or even better.

And why is all this important? Because hybrids now account for a large portion of the automobile market. Last year, the Toyota Prius actually became the 3rd most popular car in global auto sales. It also became the most popular car in California (which doesn’t surprise me — last time I was in California, I saw a Prius just about every 5 seconds).

Furthermore, plug-in electric vehicles (and especially 100% electric vehicles) are considerably different for the consumer end than hybrids were compared to gasoline-powered cars. With a conventional hybrid, your driving and fueling up is the same as it has always been. Whereas plug-in electric vehicles mean plugging your car into a socket or EV charger. The larger the change, the more likely people are to be cautious about it. While the difference in plugging in versus filling up a gas tank isn’t all that big a deal (and is actually more convenient), the shift surely keeps a good number of people from quickly making the shift.

The implication of all this, however, is that PEVs will be selling like hotcakes in a handful of years.

Why Were The Expectations So High?

So, the question remains: why were sales expectations so much higher than they should have been? I’ve got a few guesses.

1. Car companies looked at the numbers — the overall cost of car ownership for a gasoline-powered vehicle versus a PEV — and figured PEVs would be a smarter choice for a large number of buyers. However, unfortunately, buyers aren’t so rational in their purchasing. Most do not look beyond the sticker price and also compare the full price (or full cost) of automobile ownership when comparing cars.

2. Car companies didn’t anticipate the anti-PEV media attacks and overall messaging that slowed sales of the Leaf and Volt.

3. Car companies thought consumers would be much more excited about fuel-efficient, green cars that cut our oil use and emissions. (After all, a large majority of citizens are supportive of “being green” and cutting our emissions, and are not fans of oil companies or oil wars.) In particular, after the rise in hybrid popularity, I think Nissan and GM anticipated consumers would more easily take the “step up” to PEVs.

Pretty reasonable assumptions. Unfortunately, they were a bit off.

However, I think that as people slowly come to realize that PEVs are actually cheaper, that the anti-PEV propaganda most people in the media have been pushing is BS, and that PEVs are actually more convenient than gasmobiles, we will start to see these numbers take off. I think the fact that PEV sales beat hybrid sales in their second full year of sales in the U.S. is an early indication of that.

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About the Author

is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy since 2009. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he's the founder and director of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.



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  • http://www.facebook.com/scott.schlatter.3 Scott Schlatter

    Last I heard the State of Arizona was petitioned by consumers who purchased the Chevy Electric Volt, to put the car on the State’s Lemon Law list. It’s capability to re-charge and it’s capacity to drive even close to 100 miles is grossly misrepresented. I am glad alot of money has been put to research for new batteries, because logically YOU would think electric is a great solution. And maybe most commuters within 10 of work and home can use one today, comfortably by American standards. Those sprawled urban areas are out for EV’s it looks like.

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      I’ve seen that Chevy Volt drivers tend to get better than the advertised rating. But maybe the situation in Arizona is unique with the heat. ?

    • http://www.facebook.com/don.francis.5648 Don Francis

      Two problems here, the range degradation issue in Arizona is with the Nissan LEAF and not the Chevy Volt. Second, the 100 mile range was on the EPA city mileage test procedure which is run at low speeds without AC on flat ground and warm temperature. The range of the 2011 Nissan LEAF as communitcated by Nissan on the Customer Disclosure form is 62 to 138 miles depending on temperature, terrain and speed. The US Environmental Protection Agency official range is 73 miles. It is unfortunate that the 100 mile range figure became a fact without the caviates associated with how and under what conditions the 100 mile range figure was developed. As a 2011 Nissan LEAF owner, I find the 73 mile figure to be solid as I have driven as far as 80 miles on a single charge.

      • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

        Thanks for the comment. Yes, the misinformation and misunderstandings out there are far too widespread.

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